16 Nov 2020

Justice with a difference: The iwi panels with a 92% success rate

8:15 pm on 16 November 2020

Iwi justice panels in Wellington have credited strong relationships with police and support services at their fingertips for the region's success.

Te Pae Oranga in Waiwhetu is an alternative pathway for low-level offenders, usually held on marae, and uses a restorative justice process integrated with kaupapa Māori practices instead of sending them through the courts.

The latest figures from police show a 92 percent success rate for Māori in the Wellington region, compared to a 54 percent success rate nationally.

Te Pae Oranga in Lower Hutt are held in Te Māori, a whare for tāonga and art across the road from Waiwhetu marae.

Iwi liaison officer Asher Hauwaho, who has been with the panel since its inception in 2010, said this allows them to have flexibility with kawa (protocols) that they wouldn't have on the marae, while also avoiding clashes with tangihanga.

Each session begins with a karakia by Waiwhetu kaumātua and co-chair of the panel Konga Reriti, who makes it clear to offenders this is not a court.

The reading of the summary of facts by the iwi police liaison officer after the karakia is the only court process the panel employs.

An alternative justice meeting at Te Pae Oranga.

A Te Pae Oranga session in Lower Hutt. Photo: RNZ / Meriana Johnsen

Against the backdrop of Māori art, Reriti said offenders, or participants as they call them, were able to relax which he said was part of their high success rates.

"I think it's our wairua side of things, we have participants that have been here and as soon as they come through the door they're anxious and everything like that, they come into this environment, they see our tāonga here, 'wow, this is different' - their ahua changes."

When RNZ visited, a Pākehā man was in front of the panel for theft of several thousand dollars of property, and had to face the victims of his crime, who sat directly opposite him.

Panel co-chair Julie Wilson - known as "Aunty Julie" - made it clear to the offender that they were lucky to be there and not in a courtroom, as this crime sits outside the eligibility for Te Pae Oranga.

She attributed their success rates to strong relationships with police from the highest levels of the organisation to those on the ground, and with having great social service provider networks.

"We're getting support by all of the police - every frontliner, every senior sergeant, every sergeant, everybody in the police from the commissioner down, so we're lucky that we have that relationship and it's very strong with the hierarchy," Wilson said.

"Every Māori provider in this region we have a connection to ... we're very fortunate because our rūnanga, Te Atiawa, is the umbrella for all of the marae in this area, from Upper Hutt through to Lower Hutt here to Petone, so we're pretty fortunate that we have this wealth of support and knowledge with all the tribal groups here."

The meeting remains private and confidential, and offenders do not get a criminal record.

Support is offered for the underlying causes of offending, such as drug and alcohol counselling, and they have six weeks to do that or risk being charged.

Offender and victims each get a say in the measures that will be made or the course of action the offender must take to address the cause of their offending, and everyone shakes hands or hugs at the end of the hui.

John Potaute was a victim of a crime, he said Te Pae Oranga was a chance to try something different.

John Potaute, who was a victim of a crime, says Te Pae Oranga is a chance to try something different. Photo: RNZ / Meriana Johnsen

Hauwaho personally picked up the last participant of the day, a Māori man in his 30s.

"If they don't turn up, then there's no meetings at all therefore there is no completion rate, so we're trying the best by our staff that refer people to the Te Pae Oranga panel, that we get them front and centre to enable the meeting to take place," Hauwaho said.

He said from there they could understand why the person committed the crime and address it.

"You won't know that until you sit around the table and have a values based kōrero with them, so in terms of the completion rates, agreements are kind of tailored for each person."

Victims of crimes and their whānau are invited to attend panel sessions as well.

The victim of this crime, John Potaute, said he agreed with the officer to take this particular course of action instead of going to court because it was "an opportunity to try something different."

"I thought the space was really safe, it was positive, it was a good way of everyone having a fair say on what their side of the story was, a chance to apologise, to brush over some details that you wouldn't get in a court.

"I though it was actually a really positive outcome to be honest.

"The space allowed me to actually converse with the person and apologise to him for things I said and done as well at the time too, just looking after my property, and my house and my family but just to hear him apologise face-to-face, kanohi [ki] te kanohi, it was different than a court system."

Wilson and Reriti said that what happened after the hui was the most important part.

Offenders were assigned a Whānau Ora navigator who made sure they followed through with the "assessment" plan that was agreed upon by the offender, victim(s) and police, whether that be an apology, counselling or reparations.

Wilson made it clear to offenders that this was a one-time deal and it was up to them to stay out of court.

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